Category Archives: New Life

Gratitude

This past weekend I watched a video of a woman who had married her fiancé. No big story there, until you learn she married him after he was in a car accident that destroyed his brain and left him to a great extent incapacitated, and that she and her husband were both twenty-something when they married.

I was dry-eyed until she described her “gratitude wall.” It is a corkboard hanging on the kitchen wall, filled with post-it notes documenting everything in her life for which she is grateful—family, friends, her husband’s handicaps, God’s grace. (Perhaps those last two go together.)

Inspired and guilt-ridden, I made my own gratitude wall this weekend. Though it has only a few scraps of paper pinned to it, I plan to take a moment each day to remember those things for which I am truly grateful, and to add at least one thing to the board.

I think there is some sort of benefit from doing this–being consciously grateful–that goes beyond the obvious advice of being glad for what we have. Somehow, our gratitude is one of the ways God extends His grace to us–not a means of grace like baptism or the Lord’s supper, but important nonetheless. Important and true enough for me to recommend you do the same—build your gratitude wall.

Or at least, Be Grateful.

(Yesterday I was particularly grateful for my Mom.)

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Morning Langniappe

Clouds over the Pacific Ocean this morning were pulled directly from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They lacked only God, Adam, those fat little cherubim with the impossibly small wings plumping around the periphery, and the choir singing the chorus to Handel’s “Messiah”.

I love it when I’m inspired by things over which I have no control, and which arrive unexpectedly, a little langniappe* for the morning.

*lagniappe: LAN-yap, noun, Cajun French , a little something extra at no extra charge (think the 13th donut in a baker’s dozen).

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Strength, Not Skill

There is energy in doing the right thing, whatever that thing is for you.

There is strength in that energy. It erupts not because we’re skilled at the activity, but because the energy flows from the heart’s recognition of a fundamental right-ness. It’s as if engaging in the activity slides the tumblers of the lock in place, and the safe drawer slides open with a soft click.

Like the wind across the Oklahoma plains, let the wind of encouragement blow you a step closer toward doing the things that give you joy, and strength.

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Behind The Edges of the Sky

David Carmichael, known to his friends as David but whose childhood nickname was Numpty, looked up at the stars and considered that people either knew exactly what he meant when he said he loved camping in the desert, or they looked at him as if he were speaking Portuguese. There didn’t seem to be any common ground; you either loved it and understood without words, or you didn’t. If you didn’t understand, there was no explaining it.

He didn’t entirely understand himself. “Why” he said “do I go live temporarily in the middle of the desert when I could just as well stay home, watch videos on my big-screen iMac, drink whiskey from a glass that doesn’t have dust and the occasional ant in it, then sleep comfortably in my own bed?” He took a drink from a glass of whiskey that did indeed have a bug floating black and lifeless in it, and stared at the campfire.

Camping at its best was a compromise between comfort and adventure, heavy on the adventure and very low on comfort. And, though he had gradually over the years acquired the gear and developed the techniques for a comfortable camping experience, still, it was uncomfortable, and a hassle to boot.

“I don’t want comfort” he said, picking the mosquito out of his whiskey glass and flicking it into the darkness outside the fire.

He took a drink and leaned back in his beach chair and looked up. The stars covered the sky and he felt small compared to its sweeping bright magnificence.

A coyote howled in the distance and he heard the steps of what was perhaps its mate stepping across the sandy hills just outside the firelight. The only other sound was the crackle and pop of the campfire.

He took a drink of his whiskey and lit a cigar, blowing the smoke into the stillness and watching it weave above the fire and disappear into the night.

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Make It Easy

People want something within their reach.

Make it easy for them to get what you have to offer.

If you’re offering comfort, or kindness, or hope, so much the better.

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Here I Stand!

Nearly all of us choose to work rather than become wards of the welfare state. We have an obligation to be happy where we are, and chances are good that in order to earn a living we need to spend a significant amount of time working.

The best of jobs can be made crummy by someone who should never ever be allowed to have authority over another person. Ever. Yet what do we see in the workplace? I’d venture to say over ninety-percent of those in leadership positions are at best incompetent and at worst cruel.

But we choose to work, and more often than not, wind up working for that ninety-percent. What to do?

First, discover what is true, then uncover the right thing to do.

Let’s say these three things are true:

1. We have an obligation to ourselves and our fellow man to be happy (or at least act like it until we are); and

2. Many if not most of us are working for somebody who is just this side of the troll who crawled up from under Billy Goat’s Gruff’s bridge (and the only immediately noticeable difference is that he wears a tie to work); and

3. We are not being physically abused.

Now what?

Do this: Stay put. Don’t cling to it as if you are a victim of work-abuse. Choose to stay.

Know that there are good and legitimate reasons to do so. (And there is every possibility that you can be happy there, too.)

Homework assignment: list one reason staying in your job working for the troll makes good sense. Consider reasons like “it pays well,” and “dental insurance,” and “I think the cute engineer down on the first floor likes me.”

Next post: a discussion of our obsession with work utopia.

Want to read ahead? Pick up the book Quitter by Jon Acuff. Read the first chapter for free here:  http://www.amazon.com/Quitter-Jon-Acuff/dp/0982986270/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331816139&sr=8-1

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The Kindness Of His Eyes

“He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.”  Mark 2:13

The city of Capernaum became a marketplace, crowded with people who came to hear the rabbi and those who sold both the necessities of life and some of its more sordid luxuries to them. The streets were lined with vendors selling bread, wine, figs, dates, pomegranates, and goat cheese. Men sold so many pieces of the rabbi’s robe that if the pieces had been sewn together more than a hundred men could have clothed themselves.

“It isn’t usually like this, brother” said Moshe happily, hefting the bag heavy with denarii. “May this rabbi stay for many weeks, and may he draw ever more customers to our humble fishing vessel!” He turned to the crowd of people standing on the shore. “We have no more, brothers and sisters! We will return later with a full boat, God willing.” His smile and bright countenance eased their disappointment.

Moshe placed the bag of coins in a small compartment under the oar lock of the fishing boat and he and Mordecai pushed the boat off the sand and out into the Sea of Galilee. “The Sea provides for the diligent” said Moshe. “We may be able to get in one more good catch before it gets too hot and the fish go deep for the day.”

Though only healed for four days, and a fisherman for three, though his knots were untidy and he poked the net-awl through his hand more often than the net, still, Mordecai gloried in the feel of the boat moving under his feet as he stood on the deck and directed the sail to catch the breeze. He had blisters on his feet, and callouses too! He was proud of his scars, proud too of the skills he had acquired, and shamefully pleased at the way the women looked at him as he walked home from work. Women’s eyes in all the years before the rabbi healed him held only pity. Except for one.

* * *

While Mordecai her husband fished, Abigayil his wife made bread. She arose with him, well before dawn, and by the time he left she had baked a stack of flat cakes of bread. Each time she pulled a cake warm from the fire she proved her worth, and her desirability. But the feeling didn’t last longer than the time it took to put the cake with the others, and she kept baking as though her life depended upon it.

She could not help but think of her husband and how he had changed since the rabbi healed his paralysis. Fishing made Mordecai strong, and he was so happy. He had always been a cheerful man but now some heretofore undiscovered vault of joy had been opened. “The rabbi, not I, has unlocked this part of his heart” she thought. This fact galled her even more than the women’s open admiration of her strong tall husband.

“He cannot swim” she said to the empty room. “He could have given him the gift of swimming while he was at it. It would show that rabbi something if the man he healed fell off the fishing boat and drowned.”

* * *

“Abi, come! The rabbi is speaking in a few minutes, down by the shore!” Sarah rushed into the room and pulled Abigayil away from her work table. “We can stand at the back, near the edge of the crowd. You’ll be safe there.”

“You assume I want to hear what this rabbi has to say. I do not.”

“Yes you do. Don’t you want to hear the man who healed Mordecai? They say he is the Messiah!”

“No I do not” said Abigayil. “I’m busy.” She slapped a ball of dough flat and threw it down on the table.

“Then keep me company” said Sarah. She took a towel and began wiping the flour from Abigayil’s hands and arms. Abigayil sighed. With Sarah there was always a line beyond which it was futile to argue. When Sarah had finished with her, Abigayil took her cane from its place against the wall beside the door and followed Sarah out the door. Sarah took Abigayil’s left arm in her right and they joined the crowd of people pushing down the street toward the Sea of Galilee where Jesus of Nazareth was to speak.

The sick, the crippled, the demon-possessed, and the desperate were drawn to the shore, hoping this rabbi might heal them with a blessing, a touch, or even a look. They had heard stories that were almost beyond belief, but to the hopeless even a straw is worth grasping, if there is nothing else to pull them up toward the light.

Abigayil watched them push their way toward the front of the crowd and resisted the urge to warn them of healing’s more unpleasant consequences. She let Sarah lead her to a place at the back edge of the crowd. She walked well with her cane but if pushed she fell easily, and it was difficult to stand up again with a right foot and leg that were largely useless.

The rabbi sat in a boat not far from shore. Abigayil saw him look up, then he stood and began to speak.

“Listen!” he said to the crowd. “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on shallow ground, and the seed grew but burned because its roots could not go deeply enough.”

Abigayil could hear her heart beat in the silence. She looked sideways at Sarah and saw tears welling in her eyes.

“What’s wrong with you?” whispered Abigayil. “He’s talking about farming.”

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” said the rabbi.

‘This is it? I don’t need him to tell me not to sow my seeds on the rocks’ Abigayil thought with disgust.

The rabbi continued to speak, and finally Abigayil whispered “Come on, this is a waste of time.” She pulled Sarah’s arm but Sarah’s gaze was fixed on the rabbi. Abigayil shook her head, stepped away from the crowd and walked up the street toward home. She stepped over her doorsill and threw her cane against the wall. “I will have bread ready for sale when they tire of this messiah” she said.

* * *

Moshe and Mordecai leaned against the rail of the boat and listened. They were close enough to see drops of sweat run down the rabbi’s face and wisps of his dark hair blowing in the wind. When the rabbi finished speaking and sat down, they turned, raised the sail, and moved south, away from Capernaum.

They spoke only what was necessary to move the boat to a good spot and throw out the nets.

“Moshe, did you understand what he was talking about?” asked Mordecai, after the nets had been set.

“He meant that we should work hard, and wisely” said Moshe confidently. “Now, pull!” They pulled the net closed around the fish.

“Are you sure?” said Mordecai.

“No, not really” said Moshe. “Perhaps we should ask him. You could show him how well you’re doing.”

Mordecai shivered at the thought of meeting the rabbi. What could he say? It was as if he’d been given a new life.

Moshe and Mordecai pulled the net into the boat and picked the fish up by their gills and put them in baskets in the stern. When the net was empty they threw it out again into the water, working hard, and wisely.

* * *

The man who leaned his head into the doorway of Abigayil’s home was short, stocky, and comfortably handsome. “I was told I could buy bread here?” he asked.

Abigayil looked up. “Certainly, sir. How many would you like?”

“I need twenty loaves, if you have them.”

“Twenty! I have close to that now, but it will take some time for me to prepare the last few. Please come in and rest out of the sun while I prepare them.”

The man stepped over the sill and sat on a low stool next to the table. He folded his hands inside his robe, politely lowering his eyes. “I am with the Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. The twenty loaves are for his disciples.” He paused. “I have only recently been chosen as one of them.”

Abigayil stood up from the fire and poured the man a cup of wine from the clay bottle kept in a dark corner of the room, careful to avoid his eyes.

The man continued. “I was a tax collector in this city until yesterday. The Rabbi said ‘follow me’ and I followed” said Levi, for that was his name.

“Apparently no one can refuse him” said Abigayil evenly.

“No, you cannot!” said Levi.

“I was at my booth. It was midday, and hot, though I sit—sat—in the shade of my small tent. That was a good tent. My father gave it to me the last time he spoke to me. He was not proud of my profession, and once I took it he forbade me to come into his home. He said the presence of a tax collector made it unclean.” Levi spoke quickly and without rancor.

“My box was full of the morning’s collection. I separated it into two portions; one for the Romans and one for myself. That is how it is done, and I am sorry for it now.” He looked up at Abigayil. She leaned over the fire with her back to him.

“There were no travelers coming toward the city, so I took my midday meal from my pouch and began to eat. Some salted fish and bread. This is what I have for the midday meal every day except the Sabbath, when I have some figs and a bit of goat cheese as well.” He spoke quickly, as if he expected to be interrupted, or as if no one had ever cared to listen to the small details of his life.

“As happens more often than not, as soon as I began to eat a crowd of men came into the street. I recognized some of them—Peter, John, James, fishermen from this town. The rabbi walked with them. I had seen him before, from a distance—you can’t be in Capernaum without knowing about him and hearing what people say. He came up to my booth. ‘Follow me’ he said. That’s all. ‘Follow me.’” Levi paused. “So I got up and followed.” Pause. “I do not understand what happened at that moment but I knew then and I know it now that I am compelled to do as He says.” He looked at Abigayil, tending the loaves over the fire. “I believe He is the One the prophets spoke of, the Messiah, and He will deliver us from the heavy hand of the Romans.” Levi ignored the fact that up until the day before he had earned his living working for the Romans. “Have you heard him speak?” he asked.

“Yes” said Abigayil. “I heard him speak earlier today. About farming.”

Abigayil wrapped the twenty loaves into two packets of ten loaves each. “My husband believes also that this man is the Son of God” she said. “He was healed a few days ago of his paralysis and now earns his living as a fisherman.”

Levi looked at her. “This makes you sad.”

“Yes” she said, looking down at the loaves of bread. “Yes, I am sorry for it but I am… afraid. Nothing is as it was before and I do not like it.”

She put the two packets of bread on the table next to Levi the Apostle. “We must get you back to your rabbi” she said in a tone of voice that told Levi he was no longer welcome.

He stood so suddenly he knocked the stool backward onto the floor. He blushed and set it back upright. ‘I wish I were a different man, not so shy nor clumsy’ he thought. “Yes, thank you” he said to Abigayil politely. He gave her the denarii for his purchase, adding a few above the price, took the two packets of bread and left the house. He tripped over the sill on his way out.

Abigayil put the coins with the others in the bowl on the shelf, after counting them twice. He was not only handsome, but generous.

She returned to her work. Her crippled foot ached but she told herself to ignore the pain and work harder so that she might be desirable to her husband. Hadn’t Solomon said this was what was expected of her?

“I must work harder” she said, and laid two flat loaves near the fire to bake.

Her mind wandered to the tax collector, and she wondered if her house were now unclean, as his father had believed. He was a former tax collector; was that enough? She hoped so. His eyes were so kind. And she was so scared.

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